Come: sit, eat, and weep.

Come: sit, eat, and weep.
Photo by Boris Dunand / Unsplash

Two people couldn't be more different. 

He is esteemed. Dignified. Important. 

She is poor—a streetwalker. Riffraff. 

He is hosting a party. She is crashing it. 

And in the middle of all the commotion,


He knew them both. 

two white ceramic plates on brown wooden table
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

Jesus was Simon's guest, a religious leader eating at his table. 

Jesus also received an unwelcome guest, a woman, who cleaned and massaged his feet with tears, hair, and perfume. 

This is one of my favorite scenes to imagine: 

Simon burning hot with anger, whispering in his mind, "How did this whore get in my house?" 

This woman was burning with shame, breaking all social expectations to get closer to Jesus and honor him with the only thing she owned of any value. 

One lesson Simon learned that day was not to think things you didn't want Jesus to hear. If [Jesus] were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.

Jesus heard that thought and chose to share a few of his own,

Jesus answered him, "Simon, I have something to tell you."

"Tell me, teacher," he said.
"Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now, which of them will love him more?"
Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven."
"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little."

Yes, Jesus was a guest at Simon's table, but he wasn't much more. Simon didn't hold the door, take his coat, or shake his hand. The invitation was out of obligation or perhaps a power grab—nothing more. 

The woman, by contrast, does everything Simon didn't do. 

We don't know her name. We don't know her background. We don't even know how she knows about Jesus. All we know is that she is labeled a sinner and was not invited to this dinner. 

But that doesn't stop her from getting to Jesus. 

There is irony all over the place in this story. 

The person who should extend God's love (religious leader) is the one who is distant and harsh. 

The person who should avoid Jesus (the town prostitute) is the one cleaning the dust off his feet in reverence. 

How do we explain the difference between the two? 

The Good and Beautiful Project

I am working on a project to determine what makes a life good and beautiful. In this portion of the project, I am spending time with a cast of characters from the Bible to discover what makes their lives good and beautiful. Obviously, these people are not here to answer the question directly, but spending time reading their stories gives us insight. 

I am filtering what we know about these characters through a three-pillar framework: coherence, purpose, and significance. A good and beautiful life is associated with the feeling that your life has a story (coherence), a story that is going somewhere (purpose), and a story that has cosmic, existential significance (significance).

Was this woman's life good and beautiful? What about Simon?

If we were only exterior viewers, this would be a closed case. 

From the outside, this woman's life seems to be anything but good and beautiful. She is filthy physically, spiritually, and ethically. She is shameful and lowers herself to the dirt beneath Jesus' feet. 

Simon, on the other hand, has wealth, value, and esteem. He has a house to host Jesus, the means to provide food, and the status to determine his importance over this woman and even Jesus.

Yet, defining Simon's life as good and beautiful feels wrong. Like a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit. If that is true, a good and beautiful life is not attached to wealth, value, and esteem. 

So why do we chase these things so fervently? 

Why do we care so much about high-paying jobs, living in a multiple-room house, having a new iPhone, and wearing name-brand clothing?

Why do we base our value on our reputation? Reputation is simply what other people perceive to be true about us. 

Why are we the first to name-drop our achievements, hang our degrees on our walls, and flaunt our follower accounts? 

We have bought into the same lie Simon did: that what others can see determines the quality of our lives. The woman at Jesus' feet flips this script. 

Her life, choices, and sin were on full display as she sat at the feet of Jesus, yet her significance was not attached to her reputation but to Jesus himself. 

shallow focus of a woman's sad eyes
Photo by Louis Galvez / Unsplash

We All Seek Significance

Significance involves experiences of transcendent value and worth. 

When we feel significant, we experience life as worth living. Significance is the feeling that your life matters, no matter what. 

Significance opposes contingent self-regard, which determines our value from accomplishments and accolades (I matter if...). Significance determines that you matter, regardless of whether you are a wealthy man hosting Jesus at your table or a filthy prostitute cleaning Jesus' feet with your hair and tears.

In a world obsessed with achievement and status, where can we find this level of unshakeable significance outside of something greater than ourselves, something that transcends the fleeting external measures of worth?

There are two primary ways we seek out significance: productive means and destructive means. 

  • Feeling significant through productive means entails standing out for your accomplishments (i.e., Simon).
  • Feeling significant through destructive means entails resorting to self-sabotaging methods, often presented as reckless behavior because it gives you attention (i.e., the woman). 

We desire significance; we just don't know how to get anything that lasts and is fulfilling. And it's usually those who come to the end of destructive choices who realize this first. Our production lasts a lot longer and can blind us longer. 

That is why the woman sees the truth about Jesus before Simon. 

There's nothing wrong with the need to feel significant. It is intrinsic to a good and beautiful life. What matters more is how you go about achieving this feeling.